Saturday, 4 April 2015

Cucumber: Episode 8

"Right, I'm off for a wank."

And so it ends, with a slow-paced, philosophical and reflective episode to tie things up. And I'll begin with the ending; Henry and Freddie meet for a chat six years later, and Henry (no longer a virgin, although penetration will never be his favourite sexual pastime) finally lets slip the central fact about his character; he still needs to come to terms with being gay. Freddie's generation may be utterly relaxed about sexual orientation, but Henry's generation were the pioneers in the long march from AIDS and Section 28 towards Equal Marriage a quarter century later. He's young enough to have tasted of the fruits of equality but old enough to remember when gay people had no rights at all. Unlike Freddie, Henry sees these rights as precarious, which probably has a lot to do with why he wouldn't marry Lance. And he could be right. Time will tell. Nevertheless, all of Genry's behaviours over the series is interesting to consider in this light, which is why the television grammar of a cliffhanger ending clicks in as soon as Henry says  "Being gay."

Before this, though, we have a whole episode in which Henry's little commune slowly dissolves, hippy fantasies slowly punctured by real life, and his mid-life crisis ends as, with Cliff's assistance and in the episode's most amusing scene, he not only gets his job back but gets a promotion. It's all brilliantly structured, both as an episode and, we can now finally say, as a whole series.

We begin, again, with our usual opening motif of Henry in the supermarket, a sign of renewed normality at first. Yet this time he stalks a fellow shopper whom he fancies, following him all the way to... his wife. This sort of thing is, of course, a universal part of being gay.

The most dramatic part of a quiet episode, and very much harking back to last week, is where Veronica, instinctively disgusted with his Bohemian lifestyle, accuses Henry of being responsible for Lance's death and re-opens a very tender wound. Yes, this is cruel of her, but it stings all the more because she's such a convincing Everywoman. Both Vincent Franklin and Anjli Mohindra are extraordinary here. This is an important prelude to the silent and tense scenes as Henry waits for the verdict on Daniel, which is guilty in spite of everyone's fears.

We end with a nice coda, with everything and everyone being brought up to date in a quiet chat between Henry and Freddie. It's a low key end, but appropriately so. RTD is s master of how to balance high drama with calm. Indeed, on the evidence of these eight episodes, he has a good claim to be the best dramatist currently working in British TV. Cucumber is right up there with the likes of Edge of Darkness and The Boys from the Black Stuff.

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